Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Alice Miranda at School by Jacqueline Harvey

I am not sure how to write about this book. It is so utterly unbelievable it is more like a fairy tale cloaked in a realistic story. Or maybe it is a parody of British boarding schools. The repetition in the story reminds me of beginning chapter books for emerging readers (grades 2-3) but the bullying seems older and the narrator is a first grader who sounds more mature than most adults. She is a genius but developmentally too advanced for her age. So... let the fairy tale begin...

Once upon a time there was a 7-year-old who had the wisdom and vocabulary of a 70-year-old. She called a boarding school because she wanted to go there and was accepted even though her parents weren't ready and sobbed when they dropped her off. While walking around the school she met three adults all having problems and unhappy with their work situations. Like the good witch in Oz, she waved her wand (figuratively), and fixed their problems using mummy and daddy's money. When she meets the class bully, she can't seem to fix her, but she handles her with self-control and the maturity of an adult. The headmistress is also unhappy and takes issue with the little poppet that grows happiness around her like a field of poppies. The headmistress makes the smiling 7-year-old girl go through a series of unfair tests (a 3 hour SAT type test) which she does with the smile and joy of a saint. Will the poppet pass the tests and charm Miss Grimm, the headmistress, like she has everyone else?

Everything in the plot is unbelievable. So much so it is funny. It reminded me of the Willoughby's but not as extreme or with as many references to literature which is why I'm not sure if the author intended it that way or not. I think so. Maybe if I was British I would see more connections or more of a savvy reader.

The writing uses repetition of plot elements that will help a young reader but the vocabulary is higher than normally found in this type of book. It might be good for a high reader in grades 2 or 3, but the target audience is grade 4. The setting is in England with English vocabulary such as poppet - I love that word. The adults use that word when referring to Alice-Miranda, the 7-year-old, who works her magic on those around her making them happy.

The characters don't change internally. Alice-Miranda is always good and always says the right thing. the bully is one-dimensional and bosses everyone around because she's rich and thinks she owns everything at the boarding school. Alice-Miranda does wonder why she is this way but the reader never finds out. The headmistress changes internally. There is no great depth to the characters' thoughts and the plot is predictable. I actually enjoyed more of the outrageous and imaginative plot twists because they were so out there. Make sure to park disbelief on the table before picking up this book.

Discussions can surround themes of how to deal with being rich, dealing with bulllies, and sinning people over with compliments. The happy ending is going to please most young readers.

Reading Level 4.6
2 out of 5 Smileys

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